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Blog Series - Intensive Planting (Part 2 Closely Spaced Planting)

Posted on November 27, 2009 at 12:43 PM

There are many of us who have limited space availability for food production gardening and yet still manage to produce a tremendous amount of our own food supply.   This post is part of a blog series devoted to exploring the many techniques available to optimize food production gardening.   There are quite a few topics that relate to this pursuit - including (among others):

  • Crop Selection
  • Intensive Planting Practices
  • Season Extension
  • Soil Management & Fertility

The blog series was kicked off by focusing on Crop Selection.   Now we are exploring Intensive Planting Practices.   Intensive planting techniques generally include a combination of planting in raised beds (either double dug or otherwise greatly amended and improved), closely spaced planting, intercropping and succession planting, and the use of vertical growing techniques – all for the purpose of producing the same amount of food in approximately 20% of the space used by traditional row gardening practices.   Last week we focused in on the topic of Raised Beds.   This week we will keep moving through the intensive planting techniques by spending some time discussing closely spaced planting practices.   

       

Closely Spaced Planting –                   

Taking full advantage of the greater planting area provided by a raised wide bed is the next critical technique of intensive planting.   The idea of closely spaced planting is to take the one-dimensional row planting process and make it two-dimensional by planting the raised bed using within-row spacing in all directions.   This greatly increases the quantity of a crop that can be produced in a given planting area. The plants are spaced such that when mature, their leaves should just barely touch.   This close spacing provides an additional benefit (besides efficient space utilization) in that it provides a mini-climate and living mulch that reduces weed growth and helps hold moisture in the soil.                                  

           

For those who use the square foot gardening techniques of planting in grids this should not be a new concept.     The square foot method recommends using a grid of squares dividing every square foot into a number of sub-squares appropriate to the spacing of the crop being grown.    Similarly, the Grow Biointensive method employs a hexagonal pattern using various hexagonal and triangular shaped planting jigs with the spacing dictated by what is appropriate for the specific crop.     Wide row gardening uses a scattered broadcasting of seeds that is later thinned using a common garden rake (if needed).   Another variation I have seen is to just plant a traditional row across the width of the bed using the optimal spacing between each seed, then mark the distance from that row to the next row that gives the optimal plant distance and then plant another row and keep doing this until the bed area is planted up.   This year, I have seen one more method that achieves this result – Annies Granny has created her own tissue paper seed mats which do a great job of ensuring optimal spacing.            

        

I personally most often use a combination of the square foot grid system and wide row block planting.   I have also used the multiple rows method a time or two but it is not my usual method.   My bed widths and lengths are all in increments of 4 feet - so it makes it very easy to employ the square foot method of using a grid of squares and sub- squares.   I use block planting for large beds of spinach, carrots, garden peas, and bush beans.    In this next picture, you can see some of both methods.   The broccoli (with the copper collars) in the foreground is planted in 1 foot square grids.   Behind it is a block planting of spinach.                                       

                   

   

  

This is one area of my gardening that I can stand to most improve upon and as such, it represents my best opportunity to further increase my yields.   Specifically, I am guilty of doing two things:

  1. When I use broadcast block seeding for spinach and carrots I tend to not do the required rake thinning or I am not aggressive enough with it when I do.   The consequence is that I often end up with areas in the bed that are too closely spaced, which causes plants to be small and not reach their potential. 
  2. My trenching method for planting potatoes produces a reliable crop of potatoes each year but it leaves a wide section between each trench that is essentially unused.   I should be getting much more production out of each 100 square feet of growing bed than I currently am.   For example, in 2009 I had 208 square feet of bed area planted in potatoes and I got a yield of 120 pounds (would have been about 140 but I lost some to late blight).   This works out to approximately 70 pounds per 100 square feet of growing bed.   An average expected production for potatoes per 100 square feet of intensively planted growing bed should be 200 lbs!   Obviously, I can do better than I am on this crop.

My plan to address these issues is to continue using broadcast seeding for beans and peas because the size of the seed makes it very easy to do a good job of spacing with them and I have had no issues with those two crops.   For the spinach and carrots, I may give Annies Granny’s tissue paper seed mats a try or go the route of the multiple rows method.   I am not a fan of the square foot grid method for large plantings of these closely spaced crops because it is just too time consuming to do a large area in this manner.   As for the potatoes, I am going to give a deep grid planting a try.   John Jeavon’s recommends just planting potatoes as you double dig, placing the seed potatoes on the top of the lower trench of loosened and amended soil and then covering them with the soil from the next trench’s upper level as you work your way down the bed. He recommends spacing 9 inches and then offsetting the next trench to create the Biointensive hexagonal grid pattern.   I think it would be simpler to use a 12-inch spacing and just do a typical square foot gardening squared grid.   I am not sure if I will do a full double dig on the potato beds, but at a minimum I will do a full u-bar aeration and then plant them deeply on the grid spacing.    I will likely need to add a heavy mulch layer to get full production out of the bed since I will not be backfilling a trench.   I will have to think about what to use for that layering because when I have used straw for that in the past, I ended up with an explosion in the slug population.                       

          

Do you use closely spaced planting techniques? 

Categories: Blog Series, Garden Beds, Plants